Lisa Porter, John TrantResearchers Lisa Porter and John Trant have received a $100,000 grant for a project that could lead to new therapies for aggressive cancers.

Grant to bring together chemistry and biology researchers in cancer fight

Two UWindsor professors have earned a $100,000 grant to conduct research that could lead to new therapies for particularly aggressive cancers.

Biologist Lisa Porter and chemist John Trant have been awarded a grant from the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research (OICR). The agency, founded by the provincial government in 2005, has chosen Dr. Porter and Dr. Trant’s research as an “early accelerator” project that could lead to the discovery of treatments for a number of cancer types, including breast, brain, thyroid, pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancers.

Porter said it’s the first time the institute has funded a project in Windsor: “That’s what’s really exciting about this.”

The research project will look at the body’s protective proteins that are lost or blocked by aggressive cancers. Porter and Trant will focus on one particular protein, setting up a “platform” that could have wider applications down the road.

Cancers — especially aggressive ones — block proteins that protect cells from mutating into tumours. One family of these proteins is called Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitors or CKIs. Researchers have developed synthetic CKIs, but they can be overridden by another protein called Spy1. Porter and Trant hope their research will lead to the development of drugs that block Spy1 proteins, allowing the synthetic CKIs to be an effective treatment for aggressive cancers.

“We are setting up a drug development platform that could be used for other biomedical research,” Trant said.

The project merges biology and chemistry. Such collaboration is key, Porter said. “We are bringing together different disciplines to accelerate discovery and move new ideas into application.”

Trant and Porter’s research project is one of four being funded through OICR’s Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline initiative. A panel of international experts selected the projects from a field of 18 applications filed by teams of researchers across the province.

“These projects are great examples of innovative thinking that is driving the success of Ontario’s cancer drug discovery sector,” said Laszlo Radvanyi, OICR’s president and scientific director. “We are proud to support these teams… and we are excited to help them progress their research towards better helping cancer patients.”

Sarah Sacheli